Music Reviews
Personal Record

Eleanor Friedberger Personal Record

(Merge) Rating - 4/10

A few summers ago, I traveled up to New York City to see Deerhunter perform live at Webster Hall. After slipping between crowds of beanie-wearing beardos and gangs of art school kids talking up a storm about some nobody in some who-gives-a-shit band from nowhere, I managed to get myself up to the balcony of the venue and hide off in a small corner booth that overlooked the stage. Up to that point, it had been a rough day and I was running on an extremely minimal amount of sleep as-is. I was already half nodded off when the houselights dimmed and the opener, a Zooey Deschannel look-alike in an all denim outfit and her merry band of trendily-dressed dudes, took the stage. What followed was some of the most blase singer-songwriter bullshit I’d ever heard to that point (I believe this was before Real Estate had dropped their “breakthrough” LP). Turns out the act was Eleanor Friedberger, and I was just not in the mood.

With that said, it seems that Personal Record is filled with more of the same, but this time with a ‘70s, lite-fm twist -- an idea that simply astounds me. I realize that the last few years have seen a boom in cheesy ‘80s nostalgia, but since when do we romanticize the incredibly bland, post-folk songwriting of the mid-‘70s? I don’t, and neither should you. Upbeat tunes like My Own World, When I Knew, and I’ll Never Be Happy Again all feel like they were ripped from the same template designed 40 years ago. Mid-tempo drums, cheesy flutes, slide solos, and guitars with a country twang are the order of the day, and honestly, they’re just as flavorless now as they were four decades ago.

I Don’t Want To Bother You has that same post-Beatles pop feel that pervaded the ‘70s, but without any of the soul driving it forward. Instead of feeling like Friedberger is channeling the Fab Four, Bother You feels like any other disposable piece of imitation pop from that era. Echo Or Encore has a muzak-y droll that sort of wanders along dropping cornucopias of melodrama and monotony underfoot. However, I Am The Past is probably the most offensively bland and repetitious drivel here, and sort of sounds like a poor sonic impression of Van Morrison circa Astral Weeks. It hits all the same beats as Morrison’s material -- wandering flute melodies, chiming acoustic guitars, spiral bass clarinet lines -- but lacks any of the lyrical substance that made those songs as emotionally impacting as they are. 

But for all of its dullness, there are still a few noteworthy songs here. Tomorrow Tomorrow finds Friedberger and company exploring material with a good sense of energy and space. With its start-stop vibe, which weaves between stripped down bass lines, vocals, and the subtle pitter-patter of a super reverb-ified guitar, Tomorrow Tomorrow actually feels like its got some movement to it. The album’s obvious single, Stare At The Sun, isn’t so bad either. Again, through Sun’s power-pop demeanor, the band actually musters some vitality on this track and engages the listener. You’ll Never Know Me is also a stand-out. Although the track’s spoken-word bits and incessant synthesizer noodling can be a bit gimmicky, the chorus is a pretty good pay-off all in its own. 

In any case, what we have here is an album’s worth of incredibly passive, indifferent music-making. It’s not offensive to the ears, nor is it particularly challenging in any way. It’s got a few retro-tunesmith tricks from back in the day and some very clean production. Throw in some “confessional” lyrics with a few hipster buzzwords laced in for subculture appeal and BAM, you have a record ready for universal indie praise, for whatever that’s worth now a days. This album just simply exists -- and frankly I’m not not sure how to feel about that. I’m sure plenty of people will find this to be a nice, easy listening backdrop for summertime activities, and if that’s your only objective when listening to music, then mission accomplished, here’s your record. But just don’t pretend to be imparted with some sort of remarkable personal sentiment like all your friends are.